Peer Reviewed Article Synthesis

Researchers Study the Impact of Gardening and Healthy Foods

In “A School Gardening and Healthy Snack Program Increased Aboriginal First Nations Children’s Preferences Toward Vegetables and Fruit, Lucila Triador (with Anna Farmer, Katerina Maximova, Noreen Willows and Judy Kootenay) explores the impact of implementing a school gardening program with a technology such as EarthBox. The study focuses on minority students, especially those of Native American Indian ancestry. In “Previous Gardening Experience and Gardening Enjoyment is Related to Vegetable Preferences and Consumption Among Low-Income Elementary School Children,” Alexandra Evans (with Nalini Ranjit, Cori Fair, Rose Jennings and Judith Warren) studies the correlation between socioeconomic class, vegetable consumption at home and vegetable preferences.

What They Found:

  • Why is this an Issue? Many Americans are not currently meeting nutrition standards. They lack fresh food and vegetables from their diets.
  • This disparity is especially prevalent in minority students
  • What solutions exist? Studies show that student involvement in gardening can increase vegetable preference and consumption
  • How can we implement them? Gardening programs in schools is one way to establish this involvement

These two articles together help to address the problem with student’s experiences with fresh foods and suggest a solution. Evan’s study highlights the lack of proper nutrition in America and the importance of providing opportunities for hands-on experience with food. Triador’s research on implementing gardening programs in schools demonstrates success in creating school gardens, and the impact they can make on student experience with fresher and healthier foods. While adequate nutrition at home and in school is one serious flaw in the United States, creating school gardening programs is one way to improve it.

The Need for School Gardens

In their research, Evans and the other educator’s article frameworks the pressing need for better nutrition in American schools. Less than one in ten Americans meets nutrition guidelines for vegetable consumption, as orange juice and potatoes (especially fried and chips) compromise most adolescent fruit and vegetable intake (Evans, Ranjit, Fair, Jennings & Warren 2016). Minority students may be at higher risk of nutrition-related conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension (Triador, Farmer, Maximova, Willows, & Kootenay, 2015). Furthermore, food habits in adulthood tend to be established in childhood, so early intervention is especially important (Evans, Ranjit, Fair, Jennings & Warren 2016). In a study of 28 elementary schools, Evans and the other researchers determined that students who had participated in activities like planting vegetables, pulling weeds and picking fruits had higher vegetable consumption, preferred vegetables more, and were physically healthier. There have been recent trends in home gardening, as 15 million American families grow food in documented home and community gardens with their children (Evans, Ranjit, Fair, Jennings & Warren 2016). However, not all students have this privilege at home, which is why it is important for schools to have available gardens.

Ways to Implement: Gardening Technologies

Research done by Triador and other educators focused on schools that implemented a gardening technology called EarthBox. “An EarthBox is a self-contained, water-efficient food-growing system designed to enhance the growth of vegetables in a small space. The EarthBox has a water reservoir and the system includes fertilizer and dolomite, which enhance the growth of plants” (Triador, Farmer, Maximova, Willows, & Kootenay, 2015). Children assembled the boxes, and planted a variety of fruits and vegetables from tomatoes and beets to zucchini and dill. Gardening was used as a theme for other classes–gardening books were read in the library, and other teachers facilitated taste testing and cooking. For several months, each child was offered a weekly snack program, and got to try a new fruit or vegetable. Throughout that period, students filled out questionnaires, and demonstrated increased rates of enjoying vegetables.